Gators Against Gliomas: Translational Neuro-oncology Laboratory

Mission of the Surgical Neuro-Oncology lab

Discovery of cures for patients with brain tumors through ethical scientific inquiry, collaboration, cutting-edge clinical care, education and mentorship. The laboratory focuses on identifying novel immunotherapy approaches to overcome resistance in patients with brain cancer. Current projects include development of vaccines for the treatment of brain tumors and combining immunotherapy with MRI guided laser ablation. 

Dr. Rahman’s current interests include providing leading-edge, quality care for patients with brain tumors, teaching and mentoring medical students and residents and performing translational research to discover and implement novel therapies for malignant brain tumors. 

Experimental data

Glioblastoma (GBM) is an aggressive form of brain cancer and is uniformly fatal. Standard of care is surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and sometimes tumor-treating fields. Our lab is working on finding novel therapies with the potential to increase survival for patients with GBM. 

Hydrogel-CXCL9-mRNA (HCM) vaccine

This is a novel platform developed in our laboratory in collaboration with UF College of Engineering that combines a hydrogel, chemokine and a nanoparticle to deliver tumor mRNA to the immune system. This vaccine results in recruitment of diverse immune cells into the hydrogel which are then educated against the total tumor mRNA. The immune cells then exit the hydrogel and go to the brain tumor to result in a powerful anti-tumor effect. We are currently working on further understanding the mechanism of the efficacy of this vaccine and working on the studies necessary to begin a human clinical trial. 

(Left panel) Schematic of the HCM vaccine. The polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogel is loaded with mRNA nanoparticles and CXCL9, a chemokine that recruits immune cells. The mRNA nanoparticles are loaded with total tumor RNA (ttRNA). Middle panel) CXCL9 induces migration of various immune cells, including T cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and dendritic cells (DCs), into the HCM vaccine.  Right panel) DCs are transfected by mRNA nanoparticles and present tumor associated antigens to T cells, resulting in tumor-specific T cell activation. NK cells secrete IFN-γ which potentiates T cell activation. Activated T cells egress from the HCM vaccine to exert their antitumor effect.

Human GBM cells (blue) being killed by activated T cells (red) in the setting of the HCM vaccine using total tumor mRNA.

Laser interstitial thermotherapy (LITT)

A novel treatment option for the treatment of brain tumors is stereotactic implantation of a laser into the tumor causing thermal ablation of the tumor. This treatment has the additional benefit of opening the blood brain barrier (BBB) and resulting in immune infiltration within the tumor after treatment. We have recently developed a mouse LITT model and are using this to study combinatorial strategies with immunotherapy for the treatment of GBM and brain metastases. 

Prior projects

  • Immunomodulation with chemotherapy changes response to immunotherapy in glioma
  • Optimizing vaccine with enhancing dendritic cell migration

Dr. Rahman’s Lab Team

Matthew Frain
Matthew Frain

As a PhD student at the UF College of Medicine, I am studying Medical Physics under the guidance of Dr. Frank J. Bova with the purpose of pursuing a career in clinical work and research. My background studies are in molecular neuroscience and synthetic chemistry with focuses on protocol development for nervous structure imaging and biomimetic compound synthesis, respectively.

My work at the UF Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program in the Rahman lab has consisted of the development of a novel murine stereotactic laser interstitial thermotherapy (LITT) system and proof of its efficacy, repeatability, and feasibility. In addition to methodology and component development for LITT, I have managed data, inventory, and personnel. My thesis studies are centered around the application of our LITT system for treatment of glioblastoma (GBM) and brain metastases in combination with novel nano-medicine based therapies and immunotherapeutics.

Kyle McGrath
Kyle McGrath

I am a medical student at the University of Florida College of Medicine. I graduated with my B.S. in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2020. I worked in Gianpietro Dotti’s lab studying chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell biology for 1 year before beginning medical school and joining the Rahman lab. I received funding from the American Brain Tumor Association to support my work with Dr. Rahman over the 2022 summer. My research interests include immunotherapy for cancer, the brain tumor microenvironment, and translating basic science to clinical practice.

In the Rahman lab, I have studied the effects of our novel HCM vaccine on peripheral immune activation and tumor infiltration. My work focused on the role of natural killer cells on T cell activation near the site of vaccination as well as the effect of CCL4 within the tumor microenvironment on immune infiltration and activation. I have also investigated the feasibility of translating our HCM vaccine into a clinical trial for canine patients with glioblastoma.

Ghaidaa Ebrahim
Ghaidaa Ebrahim

I am a 4th undergraduate student pursuing a B.S. in biology. Additionally, I am a member of the University of Florida Honors program and Research Scholars program. I have been working in the Rahman lab since May 2021. My current research involves investigating the mechanism of our novel HCM vaccine platform in combination with other immunotherapeutic treatments. I hope to continue conducting research in the future and open my own lab that investigates different immunotherapies for brain tumors. 

Outside of my lab work, I push myself to be the best role model I can be for my three younger sisters. I am a big believer in women empowerment– especially in STEM related fields. My main goal in life is to make a lasting impact in healthcare and academia by creating a diverse learning environment where scientific innovation can take place.

Macaulay Tomdio
Macaulay Tomdio

I am currently an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Neuroscience and Communication Studies. My academic journey has led me to join the Rahman lab in January 2022, where my research focuses on enhancing the effectiveness of Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) in our experimental murine models afflicted with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM). The overarching goal of this work is to integrate our findings with other immunotherapies to yield translational outcomes.

Driven by my aspirations for a career in medicine, my research endeavors are dedicated to pushing the boundaries of our understanding of brain cancer treatment and ultimately contributing to the development of effective cures.

Grace Hey
Grace Hey

I am a student in the University of Florida Medical Honors Program working towards completing my B.S. in both Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience and Basic Biological and Medical Sciences. I began working in the Rahman Lab in August 2022, where my research has involved investigating the efficacy and underlying mechanism of our novel HCM vaccine. As I transition to become a medical student in August 2023, I intend on conducting research that will allow us to better refine our platform for eventual translation into clinical practice. I hope to pursue a career in academic medicine that will allow for mentorship, scientific contributions to the field of neuro-oncology, and the administration of high-quality holistic care for all. 

Anjali Chauhan

Anjali Chauhan is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Dr. Anjali received her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. As a doctoral student, she studied the synthesis and characterisation of iron oxide nanoparticles for the treatment of cancer via magnetic hyperthermia therapy. She also studied the effects of magnetic nanoparticles on the neuronal survival and cognitive functions in the presence of alternating magnetic field. Her research interests include nanotechnology, cancer immunotherapy, role of tumor microenvironment in cancer progression, translational research, molecular pathways involved in cancer immunotherapy.

Oriana Otero
Oriana Otero

I graduated from the University of Florida majoring in health sciences. I have been working in the Rahman lab since September 2021. I first started in the lab doing clinical research with doctor Rahman and one of her residents Carlton Christie on reviewing the efficacy of chest x-rays in a neurological intensive care unit. I am in the process of transitioning into the lab to start working on some of the experiments for the HCM vaccine and immunotherapy treatments. 

I will be taking 1-2 gap years where I plan to continue working on research and gaining more clinical experience before applying to medical school. My main goal is to continue toward a career in academic medicine and make meaningful contributions to the advancement of science and treatments in neurosurgery. 

Olivia Packham (she/her)
Olivia Packham (she/her)

I am a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Health Science (BHS) and minoring in Health Disparities in Society. I am from Orlando, FL but I was born in Cincinnati, OH as a part of a set of triplets. I currently aspire to pursue an MD/MPH program in the future with the hope of becoming an orthopedic surgeon or oncologist. I began working in Dr. Rahman’s lab in January 2024. My research interests focus on translational research, taking treatments from bench to bedside. Outside of the lab, I am the Eastside Clinic Coordinator and a Research Assistant for Florida COM’s Equal Access Clinic Network, which provides free health care services to the Gainesville area. I have a passion for expanding health care access to underserved communities and expanding high-quality treatment options for all. 

Principal Investigator Maryam Rahman, MD

Maryam Rahman
Maryam Rahman, MD, Associate Professor, Neurosurgeon

Like all human beings, any title given does not fully capture who someone is. At work, Maryam Rahman MD has the title of associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Florida. Working within the Wells Brain Tumor Center at UF, she specializes in the treatment of patients with brain or spinal tumors. Her focus is on novel treatment techniques, including laser interstitial thermotherapy, fluorescence guided surgery, immunotherapy/vaccine therapy and awake cortical mapping during surgery.+

Dr. Rahman received a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry from Johns Hopkins University, and attended medical school and completed a neurosurgical residency at UF. During her training she completed a two-year neuro-oncology fellowship. After residency, Dr. Rahman completed a surgical neuro-oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. 

“Working under Dr. Rahman’s mentorship has not only taught me how to be a better scientist—but a better human as well.”

-Ghaidaa Ebrahim